Is Your Baby Growing Normally?

Pounds and inches obsess parents of babies. Here, pediatricians give the facts on growth during the first year.

Introduction

As parents, we watch our babies grow with awe. Yet few of us can resist comparing our child with others his age. We wonder: Is my chubby son destined to be fat? Is that taller, heavier baby healthier than my smaller, lighter child? Is the fact that my daughter isn't crawling a sign that she's developmentally behind?

The answers are no, no, and no. Furthermore, all of those comparisons won't tell you much about your own baby's progress, says Ben Danielson, M.D., medical director of Odessa Brown Children's Clinic, in Seattle. Like grown-ups, babies come in a multitude of "normal" shapes and sizes. And they hit developmental milestones according to their own inner timetables. Here, pediatricians share the nitty-gritty on growth -- and put your worries to rest.

It's all about the curve.

At each checkup, your baby's weight, length, and head circumference are plotted on a growth chart compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, a federal agency in Hyattsville, Maryland. Any number between the fifth percentile and the 95th is considered normal. Whether the measurements are high or low, they should follow a consistent curve over the first year. "Your baby's position on the chart means very little to us," says Robert Eden, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Brown University Medical School, in Providence. "What matters is whether she's growing in a predictable trend." There are bound to be variations from checkup to checkup, but any dramatic change (a drop from the 50th percentile to the fifth, for instance) is a red flag, and your doctor will want to keep closer tabs on your child.

Small is beautiful.

If your baby is below the 50th percentile in weight, you may be tempted to try to feed her more. Don't, advises Dr. Eden. Even babies below the "normal" range will be fine as long as their growth remains steady. "My 10-month-old's measurements have been in the third or fourth percentile since her birth," says Chris Anne Wheeler, a mother of two from Hopkinton, New Hampshire. "She has her own growth curve that parallels the usual curve." In addition, babies of Asian, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander backgrounds tend to be smaller, on average, than babies of other ethnicities. While the newest growth charts incorporate data from diverse racial and ethnic groups, you should still take your child's background into account.

Dieting is not for babies.

We've all read the statistics about the boom in childhood obesity. But don't panic about your 6-month-old's chubby thighs. Your baby's weight does not predict future obesity unless it is radically out of proportion to his height. And no matter what your baby weighs, never restrict his food intake; he needs calories and fat so his body and brain can grow.

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